Bus-Parts Prices Being Negotiated, Metro Says

The high-priced parts Metro is buying to repair its Italian-built tunnel buses won't cost the transit system a penny extra in the long run, agency officials believe.

"It is not money lost," Richard Sandaas, executive director, said yesterday.

Breda, the builder of 236 dual-power buses for the downtown Seattle bus tunnel, has tagged some replacement parts with outrageously high prices: $1,100 for an air hose costing $44 in Seattle; $233 for a wheel bearing costing $59.97 here and $258 for a $4 oil filter, for example.

Some of the high prices are the result of clerical error, others came from miscalculations by Breda or its suppliers. In other cases the prices are legitimately high because the parts are specially made for the Metro fleet.

Metro has been aware of the overpricing for six months and has been negotiating corrections with Breda. In March, Breda credited Metro with $10,715 after acknowledging several parts were priced too high.

Other credits or refunds and fairer prices are expected as Metro continues to negotiate with the Italian firm, Sandaas said.

Metro was Breda's first customer in the U.S. It now is building rail cars for Los Angeles and hopes to expand its business by selling more tunnel buses and, perhaps, rail cars to Metro in the future.

Sandaas and other Metro officials believe Breda's desire to protect its image among U.S. transit agencies will make it eager to settle the parts-pricing controversy fairly.

Breda's top financial officer was in Seattle yesterday, on an unrelated business issue. The executive was distressed by reports about overpricing, Sandaas said, adding: "I'm sure we'll get full cooperation."

Sandaas and Paul Toliver, transit director, said Metro stockpiles 2,700 parts for the 60-foot-long Breda buses. So far it has checked 900 parts for price and has concluded it was being overcharged on 32.

An oversight committee of Metro Council members was appointed yesterday to work with Sandaas, Toliver and other Metro administrators in the price analysis. The review should be complete by mid-July.

Some transit workers have said they were reluctant to speak up about overpriced parts out of fear of being reprimanded.

Sandaas said he sent a message to all Metro workers yesterday emphasizing they could come directly to him or Toliver with reports of problems if they feared reprimand from their bosses.

Transit workers have found one way to beat Breda prices: sheet-metal workers have begun making replacement doors and other body panels for the Italian buses at Metro's south Seattle base.